Harper's Index (March)

Percentage of political ad spending during 2010 elections that would have been prohibited before Citizens United : 72

Percentage increase since 2009 in investment fraud targeting adults over 50 : 100

Age at which a typical person’s financial decision-making ability peaks : 53.3

Amount in BP oil-spill recovery funds spent this winter on a prom for senior citizens in Panama City Beach, Fla. : $166,000

Number of its 1,875 streetlights the city of Highland Park, Mich., has stopped illuminating in the past year to cut costs : 1,387

Amount of Homeland Security funds spent in Michigan last year on Sno-Cone machines : $6,279

Cost of an IED-resistant “Tactical Protector Vehicle” purchased by the Fond du Lac, Wis., Sheriff’s Department : $220,000

Estimated number of parking spaces per car in the United States : 3

Width, in feet, of the narrowest home in New York City : 9.5

Cost of a 50-square-foot storage unit in the basement of the One57 building on West 57th Street in Manhattan : $200,000

Median sale price of a single-family U.S. home sold last year : $166,200

Years by which the average life span of a homeless person is shorter than the overall average : 30

Number of U.S. home sales double-counted by the National Association of Realtors between 2007 and 2010 : 2,970,000

Annual savings the U.S. Mint estimates will result from aborting its efforts to circulate $1 coins : $50,000,000

Factor by which the average white resident of the District of Columbia out-earns the average black resident : 3

Rank of D.C. among urban U.S. school districts with the widest achievement gap between black and white students : 1

Factor by which a black American is more likely than a white one to use Twitter : 2.4

Percentage of the world’s Christians who lived in sub-Saharan Africa in 1912 : 1

Today : 24

Number of Predator drones patrolling the U.S. border with Mexico : 6

Minimum number of persons whose remains the U.S. Air Force dumped in a landfill between 2003 and 2008 : 274

Number of U.S. servicepeople dismissed for pre-existing “personality disorders” between 2002 and 2007 : 22,656

Amount that each dismissal saves the federal government in annual treatment costs : $13,890

Percentage increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States in 2010 : 50

Estimated amount of money Hezbollah laundered through U.S. used-car dealers between 2007 and 2011 : $329,552,000

Date on which Saudi Arabia last executed a woman for sorcery : 12/12/11

Number of contestants in an elephant beauty pageant held in Sauraha, Nepal, in December : 5

Percentage increase since 2001 in female participation in target shooting in the U.S. : 46.5

Percentage of Americans who have been arrested by the age of twenty-three : 30

Chances that a U.K. diaper-changing table carries trace amounts of cocaine, according to a 2011 Guardian Media study : 9 in 10

Estimated number of methamphetamine labs busted in Missouri in 2011 : 2,000

Percentage of bypass-machine doctors who admitted to talking on cell phones during heart surgery in a 2010 survey : 55

Amount Miami’s Miller School of Medicine pays female “professional patients” for each student breast or pelvic exam : $40

Amount it pays males for each genital or rectal exam : $30

Chances that an employed American works in the service industry : 6 in 7

Rank of the Mafia among Italy’s largest lending institutions : 1

Rank of Goldman Sachs employees among the largest funding sources for Mitt Romney’s campaign : 1

Obama’s 2008 campaign : 2

Percentage of Americans who believe that the population of the United States exceeds one billion : 28

Who believe that Mitt Romney’s first name is “Mittens” : 2

Figures cited are the latest available as of January 2012. Sources are listed on page 64.
“Harper’s Index” is a registered trademark.





Old Wicked Songs' at the Colony Theatre

Hey, Burbank studio execs, here’s an idea for a reality show set right in your backyard: Who can watch “Old Wicked Songs” at the Colony Theatre without falling in love with John Towey?

If it sounds easy, you haven’t experienced this veteran actor’s endearing portrayal of Professor Josef Mashkan in Jon Marans’ Pulitzer Prize-nominated play.

Plot-wise, “Old Wicked Songs,” first produced in 1996, could be seen as a clunky and manipulative tear-jerker or a delicately layered, well-made drama — or, somehow, both. Stephen Hoffman (Tavis Danz), an American former child prodigy who has lost his zest for performing, arrives in Vienna to study piano with a famous instructor. But the professor, for some professorial reason, has assigned him to study singing with Mashkan first.

Because this is a play, Stephen is so tightly wound that he wears a suit and tie, while the droll, wisecracking Mashkan relaxes in a woolly cardigan. Because it’s a play, Stephen submits to the unwanted lessons, enabling the men to learn a lot from each other and discover mutually startling truths and, ultimately, deep mutual affection. And because this play is set in 1986 in Vienna during the election of Kurt Waldheim, their tumultuous, cross-generational bromance becomes an allegory of Austria’s struggles to move on from, or even forget, its Nazi past.
The grand piano in Mashkan’s rehearsal studio, a sumptuous and gorgeous set by Stephen Gifford, is essentially a third character. Both actors play it beautifully. Marans has woven his knowledge about, and passion for, Robert Schumann’s song cycle “Dichterliebe” — and for music in general — into the story with unusual grace, informing without ever seeming to lecture, and director Stephanie Vlahos guides the remarkably natural performances with a light hand.

Although Stephen is a bit of a pill, even after he loosens his tie, the handsome Danz finds his charm in a sensitive and witty portrayal. And Towey’s nuanced and fully inhabited Mashkan makes a fairly stock character — the teacher who urges the student to unbend, make love, live life to its fullest, etc. — irresistible.

Margaret Gray-Los Angeles Times


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